From across the room someone sneezes and some kind person will say, “God bless you”, or if they are German they speak the word, Gesundheit. Why does sneezing bring a wish for God’s blessing? Or if something wonderful has happened in someone’s life, or if everything in life has come out perfectly for another, someone will say, “God has blessed them.”
What does this word “Blessed” mean? This psalm, written by David begins:
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.
It is wonderful to be blessed and to be among the blessed, but it isn’t easy to get there. There are many obstacles for someone to be counted among the blessed and many people never get there. It took the writer, David, a long time to be among the blessed. David’s story is this – though he was already married, he was not satisfied. He saw the most beautiful lady, Bathsheba, bathing and he lusted after her. Though she was already married to another, he had an affair and she became pregnant. With a number of cunning plans he tried to hide his sin, but it didn’t work. Eventually he had her husband killed, and took Bathsheba as his wife. His lust, his adultery, his scheming, his lies, his murder and his hold on the power of his rule as king, were not blessed.
We believe it was an entire year before he could write this blessed psalm and talk about how blessed the man is whose transgressions are forgiven and whose sins are covered. But for all those days, those 365 or so, he was in misery. He was not blessed, but he was cursed. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me, my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (Verses 3-4)
Sin and guilt carry an awful load. It can cause us to lose sleep, eat up our insides, cause us worry and regret. Physically we are just worn out. Emotionally and spiritually we are a wreck. You’ve been there? I’ve been there. Psalm 88 says, “You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.” (Verses 6-7)
The most wonderful thing in the world is to be forgiven. But for some dumb reason we can resist the most blessed gift that God wants to give us. David wouldn’t repent. He wouldn’t confess. He wouldn’t say that he was wrong. He kept silent. Maybe we don’t stay silent, but we aren’t honest. We have reasons why we did what we did. We can justify our actions. We can give our excuses.
But it doesn’t work. Only truth works. And the truth is this – “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5)
To get the attention of David, whose heart had become hard to the evil of lust, adultery, deceit and murder, God sent a man named Nathan to him. Nathan used this story to try to get into the soul of the king, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
After hearing this account, this was David’s reaction, “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die!’” “And Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man.’” (II Samuel 12:1-7) When David lived in lust, when he took another man’s wife, when he took the life of another person, and then he ran from his responsibility in this, rather than having sorrow and brokenness, he deserved the proper penalty. Nathan looked him in the eye and said, “You’re the man!!” That is – you deserve to die.
Proverbs 28:13, written ironically by Solomon, the son of that adulterous relationship between David and Bathsheba, said, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” Do you remember those first two verses of this psalm? It starts out with the word, “Blessed”. “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.” There is no better declaration, from God, that we are a blessed people and that you are a blessed individual. But it is hard to get there.
In I John these are the familiar words about lying and truth, about our sin and God’s forgiveness – “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8-9)
I’m not saying it is easy, but really it is. If you and I just get honest and don’t play any more games concerning why we say harmful things, or do shameful acts, or let the devil control our wills, if we lay our soul bare, our Heavenly Father, due to the full death of Jesus on the cross, will forgive our sin. Sin is gone. It is erased. Forgiveness from God is indeed glorious.
When David heard the story about that evil man stealing the poor neighbor’s pet and serving it for dinner and giving the sentence – “The man who did this deserves to die.” And when Nathan pointed the finger at David and said that he was that very man, David had a choice to make. Would he stand tall, like a man of God, or would he continue to hide? David looked at Nathan and said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan, sent from God, looked at David and declared, “The Lord has put away your sin. You are not going to die.” (See II Samuel 13)
In verse 5 of this psalm David says, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” In one verse David uses all three words for sin. The first is a “transgression.”. That is the same as a trespass. “Forgive us our trespasses…” This is the picture – God sets a line and says, “Don’t step over it.” “Don’t go to her house.” “Don’t go to his house.” “Stop, that next drink will destroy you.” But we don’t listen. We step over a line. Trespass. He uses the word “sin”. That is the failure to reach the mark, to attain to where we should be. We are called to be pure, godly, different than the rest of the world. And we’re not. And he mentions “iniquity”. Iniquity – the corruption of our nature. That is what we mean when we say, “I am by nature sinful and unclean.”
In one verse he mentions all three words of our spiritual struggle – iniquity, sin and trespass – our nature toward evil, stepping over God’s boundary and not living up to God’s standard. But look at how blessed we are because of God’s forgiveness – “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” Two verses later we hear, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:7)
This is not head knowledge; this is heart knowledge. This is personal. This is an experience. It is the experience that Jesus gives us. David was in agony when he had unconfessed sin. His conscience gave him no peace. His stomach churned and he lost sleep. But when he sought God, God found him in His forgiveness. The one who once had the heavy hand of God laying right on him, found arms that lifted him up. As John writes, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (I John 1:7b) Blessed is the person whose transgressions are forgiven and whose sins are covered!! Blessed.
In the four Sunday’s when I sat in the back of the church and listened to Mike Zehnder preach, I was most blessed. I got to see the back of your heads and see what it looks like when someone hadn’t had enough sleep the night before. I was blessed with Mike’s sermons on heaven, on the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, and on the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the church at Pentecost. Good sermons!! Wonderful substance.
But what I enjoyed even more were his words during confession and absolution, his most blessed words, that he spoke to me, a sinner. His words, “As a called and ordained servant of Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
My sins were gone. Jesus took them. I am blessed. And so are you. Amen!!